The problems with virus denial

I am not entirely sure why I am bothered by this or why I bothered to write a response. Maybe just to explain how I lost someone else who I had considered a friend. That is three through the time of this virus – one decided that I was an apologist for China (unlikely given the personal comments made against me by China’s Global Times); one reposted, and tried, to defend Infowars (my refusing to give credence to the article apparently means I am not open-minded) and now  this.

One of the lessons of this extended pandemic is that we all respond to it in different ways – and we all respond differently to the new restrictions and controls placed on our lives. Some people unfortunately see conspiracies behind every bush or in 2020 lurking in every covid test!

I genuinely feel for people in governments of their health advisers in making these decisions. As a government they have a responsibility for the safety and health of their people. As a government they also have a responsibility for creating an environment that allows the national economy to thrive. Doing both in 2020 is near impossible.

A presumably now ex-friend yesterday sent me an article published on Medium. The writer only has three followers there. I guess my ex-friend thought I might be sympathetic to the article. I was not.

The article is here : Covid: The “New Religion.”

The article was sent with no explanation or covering note – my response:

“I have no idea how you expect me to react to that ….other than it is arrogant, self-opinionated, what-aboutist, aren’t I smarter than the rest, twaddle.”

I can only guess that the person who sent it to me was also the author. He has not confirmed that, but his reaction says everything. His response – “so, not woke then, ok”

Now ‘woke’ broadly means an awareness of issues that confront minorities in society in particular with reference to issues around racism. The BAME statistics for coronavirus are significantly worse than for white people making the use of “woke” oddly inappropriate.

It is hard to tell what part of condemning this article as nonsense has anything to do with being “woke.” A subject that the author could usefully research better.

Woke is certainly not supposed to be a derogatory term for anyone who does not agree with an opinion.

The article reeks of this one in SputnikNews: How COVID-19 Became Britain’s Newest Religion – do remember that Sputnik is owned and funded by the Russian Government to promote Russia’s image abroad. If Sputnik is your primary news source then I do not hold out much hope for your objectivity or common sense.

Lets just start with the title. Covid: a “New Religion”. The title is itself nonsense. Covid is a new, mutating, highly communicable infection. It is not a religion. Religions have existed for millenia; faith is passed down between generations or is found at a personal level after significant introspection. Or is never found at all. I may be a religious agnostic. But I know that the coronavirus is real.

Religions are with us for all time. The coronvirus is, in the grand scheme, a threat to our lives and livelihoods. There have been, and will be, threats to people of faith. Crusades, purges, genocide. Society is about respecting those beliefs and allowing them to co-exist.

How people of faith across our different religions have responded to the coronavirus has been written about at length. Some see the virus as a threat to faith. Others see the virus as bringing people back to faith. There is an FT article on How the pandemic reinvigorated religion It is well worth a read. The point is that coronavirus has brought many people back to religion; it is not a religion or a cult in itself.

I have no idea whether the author regards Covid as a hoax or whether he is simply arguing that the response is out or proportion to the virus. Maybe he is someone who believes that herd immunity was the solution. That callous disregard for potentially millions dead would be unfortunate.

Here are the WHO numbers at the end of July:

17 106 007 Confirmed cases
668 910 Confirmed deaths
216 Countries, areas or territories with cases

We will never know what the numbers would have been without the global response embracing everything from hand-washing to travel bans. But given the spikes as shutdowns are relaxed the numbers would be significantly, maybe exponentially higher.

This recent piece from the Guardian is revealing – As a Covid-19 survivor, I don’t have blind faith in health experts. Here’s why

This is also why condemning the media coverage is such a banal generalisation. Much of the media has been tireless in holding officials to account and in sifting reality from make believe.

So lets look at the article: my comments are in italics within the article.

“Four personality traits are developed by religion: believing, bonding, behaving and belonging.

Believing refers to acceptance of the existence of a supernatural being or world.
So, how do the masses view the virus? Well, the majority believes that there is an outbreak of a highly contagious virus producing symptoms ranging from none to severe respiratory distress that can lead to death. This is because the New Age temple, the television, tells them so. It spews the uncontrollable truth at the masses all day, every day. It is the absolute authority, do not question the message, and follow the instructions without question. From what I read, see and hear from doctors on the front lines, the ones treating actual Covid-19 cases, the numbers of new and total cases do not hold much weight. The number of fatalities is the one that does. And yet, the mainstream media promotes only the new cases, screaming an ever growing number, as the higher the count, the more serious the medical crisis, or that’s what we are led to believe.”

The author apparently knows what the majority believe? Unlikely. He regards television as the “new age temple…spewing uncontrollable truth.” He regards the numbers of new and total cases as false and claims that the media has not been reporting fatalities.

Problems. The media goes far beyond what is on your TV. The core of the responsible, questioning fourth estate has been at the heart of reporting from the medical frontlines and has consistently, at least in the European and Asian media that I look at, reported the numbers of deaths – as have the aggregrators of data such as John Hopkins.

As for doctors on the front line – the media has given us heart-wrenching personal accounts from around the world on the battle beteen medical professionals and the virus. New York hospitals alone, have admitted near 90,000 patients.

Or this from Pakistan two days ago: Dr Amara Khalid works at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore. This is her video diary of the fight against the pandemic over the past two months. For the author of the article I assume that this is just another example of the mainstream media “promoting its uncontrollable truth.” Forget any respect for the life saving efforts of health professionals

“As I write this, I check at the temple of CNN to find they are actually promoting the number of deaths, a change from yesterday. I cannot help but wonder whether a recent viral video of doctors had something to do with that. So, 150,000 deaths are shown in red with an animated chart moving ever higher, because, you know, just stating the number is not good enough to instill the level of fear they are aiming for. But to put this in context, every year 635,260 Americans die from heart disease and 598,038 from cancer.”

The last line here is silly. You cannot have the same number of people dieing from heart disease and cancer every year. I assume he means an average; over what period of time and from what data source? The numbers are also for a year while the Covid-19 deaths are for the four months of recording deaths from this virus. See How deadly is COVID-19? A biostatistician explores the question

This is a classic distraction’ whataboutism at its most irritating. Heart disease and cancer are not communicable infections. They are miserable diseases that impact far too many lives. 

Back in April Business Insider noted that “More than 13,000 Americans died last week from COVID-19, surpassing past weekly averages for other common causes of death like heart disease and cancer.

Similarly Ron Fricker, statistician and disease surveillance expert from Virginia TechSo, concluded in July that “by any comparison, the COVID-19 death rate is significantly higher than the seasonal influenza death rate.”

“Instill the level of fear they are aiming for.” I love these sort of unproven assertions. How about create a level of awareness or even a simple statement of the facts, But no; lets make allegations without evidence or support and state them as fact.

The author fails to recognise that during this pandemic, even the strongest health systems in the world have been overwhelmed and unable to
adequately provide essential health services and care for conditions not associated with COVID-19 – a big part of the problem – Covid 19 has been all consuming and other vital healthcare initiatives and surgery have been put on hold.

As the Guardian noted at the start of August rankings of excess deaths may not be definitive but are a strong indicator of the impact of coronavirus. Since the start of 2002 in Europe, England comes top, with nearly 8% extra deaths over the five-year average. Spain is second (7% extra), then Scotland (5%) and Belgium (4%). Wales and Northern Ireland are fifth and eighth respectively. In the UK the epidemic was more widespread and went on longer than in other countries, which saw their mortality return to normal levels by May, while the UK’s excess continued well into June.

Look at Thailand. As soon as there was evidence of a virus outbreak in China the Thai people almost universally started to wear facemasks. As did people in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea. The Japanese already widely wore facemasks. People did this not because their governments told them to. They, mostly did not do it out of fear. They did do it from a sense of caution and decency. To protect themselves and those around them. It simply made sense.

“The percentage of deaths from Covid-19 in the USA is currently at 0.045%. About the same as the interest rate on a savings account, and we all know how high that is. And don’t forget, there is some controversy over how these deaths were reported. If you were infected with Covid, recovered, and later died in a motorbike crash, well, guess what, your death was recorded as a Covid death. Yes, sports fans, this is the insanity that is happening right now.”

The quoted figure of the percentage of deaths is misleading as their is no context. The writer fails to note any source, states facts inaccurately and is making sweeping generalisations. Business Insider again in April stated: “It’s also still too early to calculate the overall death rate of COVID-19, but the US has seen a lower rate so far than many other countries, with about 4.4% of those diagnosed with the disease dying from it….that number has reduced over time to about 3.2% but there is concern that recent rising case numbers will lead to rising death rates.

Worth noting the WHO definition of a Covid death: “A COVID-19 death is defined for surveillance purposes as a death resulting from a clinically compatible illness in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case, unless there is a clear alternative cause of death that cannot be related to COVID-19 disease (e.g. trauma). There should be no period of complete recovery between the
illness and death.”

The comments about how deaths are reported is worth investigating further.  – something that the author is too lazy to do. And here are the details from and Public Health England.

On 16 July, the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine published an article which warned that, under Public Health England’s (PHE) system of reporting deaths from coronavirus, a patient who tested positive for Covid-19 but was successfully treated in and discharged from hospital would still be counted as Covid-19 death “even if they had a heart attack or were run over by a bus three months later.”

It described this as a “statistical flaw that leads to an over-exaggeration of Covid-associated deaths.”

This prompted Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, to demand an urgent review of PHE’s data. 

PHE (Public Health England) has suggested that changing the way it counts deaths is unlikely to make a big difference to the overall death toll. In a series of tweets, it said that around 90% of the 40,528 Covid-19 deaths reported by 15 July 2020 had occurred within 28 days of a positive test. Of those who died after 28 days, Covid-19 was stated as the main cause of death on the registration form for 47%.

This suggests that approximately 5% of those deaths were people who died more than 28 days after receiving a positive test and did not have Covid-19 as the main cause of death (which would put the figure at around 2,000).

PHE also noted that if it was to only count deaths of those who died within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test, then 4,149 deaths of people with a laboratory confirmed infection would have been excluded from that 15 July death count.

Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s incident director, said the decision to count all those who have died who had a positive Covid-19 test at any point was to “ensure our data is as complete as possible”.

“We must remember that this is a new and emerging infection and there is increasing evidence of long term health problems for some of those affected. Whilst this knowledge is growing, now is the right time to review how deaths are calculated.”

It’s important to say that while the PHE figures appear to slightly overestimate the number of people who tested positive for Covid-19 and died from it, they likely underestimate the true number of people who have died from Covid-19.

That’s because they don’t capture cases where someone has died of Covid-19 but this has not been tested for. I guess the author forgot about this being a common issue especially in countries with limited medical infrastructure and testing.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) publishes data on the number of deaths involving suspected or confirmed Covid-19 according to the causes of death listed on death certificates.

This shows that as of 10 July 2020, 48,388 deaths involving suspected or confirmed Covid-19 had been registered in England, while PHE figures at that time showed 40,213 people had died after a Covid-19 positive test in England.

Also, the number of excess deaths (the number of deaths in excess of what might be expected in a normal year) during the pandemic has been higher than either PHE’s or the ONS’s figures on Covid-19 deaths.

This could suggest that there are even more deaths involving Covid-19 that neither PHE nor the ONS are picking up, but this is still uncertain.

This is just from the UK analysis…but similar issues are inevitable elsewhere. The reasonable likelihood is that globally both infection and death numbers are understated – simply as a result of the lack of testing in many countries and in the early stages of the pandemic.

“Bonding is how important religion is to the self, and how it connects people to something larger than themselves.

From messages from movie stars telling us to do our part and wear a mask, to highway signs across the country telling us to, “Save lives, stay at home”, and my all-time favorite of, “We are all in this together”, we have been conditioned to believe that we are all part of this pandemic. Well, we are not all part of this. I have not seen anyone at the hospitals I visited, I do not know anyone that had the virus, and I have not become sick myself.”

Of course this is not necessarily true as there are plenty of documented asymptomatic carriers or people with mild symptoms who have never been tested. It is also unlikely that anyone, family or otherwise, would be allowed to visit hospitalised Covid-19 patients at least without full PPE and family agreement.

“But, apparently I am one of the few that actually consider what I see and experience to hold more weight than what the main stream media is trying to push down my throat.”

The arrogance of this statement. Look at me – I am so much smarter than the rest of the sheep. Maybe the answer is to see, read and hear more. That is what the majority of thinking people do. They listen. They question. And they accept that the changes to their lives are a necessary, unpleasant and hopefully relatively short-term solution. In fairness to the media most journalists I know would simply love to be covering other breaking news; but Covid-19 is the story of the year and will be for some time to come.

Here is Yale Medicine on 5 Things Everyone Should Know About the Coronavirus Outbreak – simple statement: “There are many things you can do to protect yourself and the people you interact with. “The best thing you can do at this point is take care of yourself the way you would to prevent yourself from getting the flu,” says Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist Joseph Vinetz, MD.”  That sounds more credible than an ill-considered article on Medium.

Is it scare-mongering to try to inform people about the virus – what it is, what it does. Is this Guardian article pushing an agenda – Think a ‘mild’ case of Covid-19 doesn’t sound so bad? Think again – key point is that “at this stage, when medical professionals and the public alike are learning about Covid-19 as the pandemic unfolds, it’s important to keep in mind how little we truly know about this vastly complicated disease.”

“On a trip across Canada during the height of the “pandemic”, I talked with coffee servers, clerks, waiters, etc., asking them if they know someone with the virus, to which almost all said no. The very few that did say they knew someone, said it with the excitement of someone who had hard evidential proof that Big Foot exists, or that they had found and stashed a unicorn horn. Sorry to say, I could actually detect an undertone of glee in their voices, like somehow, knowing someone who had the virus elevated their status in this new and exciting group that everyone found themselves in.”

Lets look at Canada’s numbers – in a nation that has been less effected than many – closing the country’s borders must have helped contain the numbers: People tested   4,050,358
Total cases         116,312
Deaths                   8,935

In Thailand of course the numbers are even less – and I would be more than happy not knowing anyone that has tested positive. As I suspect would most thoughtful people.

“Another unsavory trait that I experienced firsthand among this new group is the feeling of justification in forcing their opinion on others regarding the virus.”

Err – rather like sending this unsolicited article to someone and getting angry when they do not agree with it.

“They seem to feel, since they are acting in a certain way, that EVERYONE needs to act in the same way, and without hesitation they will attack those that do not conform. This is a (controlling) government’s wet dream: when the mob rules, with the people policing each other, developing a sense of righteousness organically, and feeding it so it continues to grow and blinds them to critical thought. To caress the ego and feed it treats is the modern form of masturbation for the masses.”

What the author has done here is confuse “forcing an opinion on others” with the much simpler act of taking precautions to safeguard the health of yourself, friends and family.

This pandemic is not a controlling government’s wet dream. See above for how many people in Asia took up mask wearing and social distancing long before it was required by their government. For some governments the pandemic will be what sees them kicked out of office – either for their  inept management of the response; or for the confused messages sent out; or for the collapse of the economies for which they are responsible.

Since when has the simple act of wearing a mask been an act of righteousness; nothing more than a combination of simple common sense and basic courtesy.

Where the author is also wrong is that people do recognise the hypocrisy of what has been happening – that  in the UK politicians have been undermining the NHS for years, who have been privatising it, and reducing the number of its beds, are now lavishing it with praise and urging us to ‘Protect’ it and publicly celebrate it.

“Behaving is how someone changes their own lifestyle to appease their spiritual beliefs.

Well, everyone has been forced to modify their lifestyle. From not sending kids to school, to working remotely, to not socializing with friends and family. To wearing PPE when out, some only a face mask, while others don complete hazmat suits, masks, goggles, face shields and gloves….all armed with alcohol spray or gel in lieu of holy water. And then staying six feet apart from other humans as the distance needed to stop airborne transmission of the virus, even though there is no hard evidence to support this distance. So yes, people have changed their behavior.”

Yes – and the point is? The virus is transmitted by person to person contact. Whether the distance is two metres or one metre is a moot point. The issue is simple. Reduce the opportunity for transmission; reduce the number of cases – both mild and fatal. The author is not a medical practitioner – and as far as I know has no medical experience. He also appears to limit what he has read about the virus, its origins, its transmission, its effects. Here is a brief from the WHO on the transmission of the virus.  

“When trying to enter a hardware store in my sleepy home town, I was abruptly stopped by a women who had been knighted the gate keeper to the store, at least for that current hour, and I was told to wait…..someone needs to leave. This, in a sprawling hardware store, not a crammed little cafe or book shop. So I asked her, politely, if she thought this was necessary, to which she gave a thoughtless reply: “Yeah, I think it helps”. As she spoke I could not help but picture her twirling her hair with a finger while smacking her bubble gum. This exchange took place in a town of 8,000, where there was perhaps one case, allegedly, and no deaths. I struggled to understand just what this measure was achieving? There was NO outbreak in the town. Doing this did not somehow help to reduce the number of infections, because there never was an outbreak in the town. But when you question this, people will argue that it’s because of such measures that the townspeople halted an outbreak. Then they can all give each other a big pat on the back, and stroke their inflated heads.”

Why behave like a twat? Globally, medical officials have said that social distancing and reducing numbers in crowded places helps stop the spread of the infection. They are also clear that the virus is more likely to spread indoors than out. Unless, as was the case in many Thai villages and towns, the town is completely closed to outsiders there always was the opportunity for the virus to be brought in from outside – after all that is how it spread in the first place.

When the Germans were dropping bombs on London and people were told to turn their lights of was there a purpose? Of course there was. Did everyone want to do it. No. But they did for the greater good and safety of the community. And when they came out of their bunkers and subway stations in the morning and their homes were still intact they had every right to pat themselves on the back. Of course, just one person with their lights on, could turn a street or a town into a target. Were people vigilant. Definitely. Was compliance expected. Of course. 

“Belonging is the identity one acquires from believing in a religion.

Everyone that stood on their balconies and banged on pots and pans every day “in support” of healthcare workers feels this, everyone that happily stands in line apart from everyone as they wait to enter feels this, as they do when they see others wearing the same PPE as themselves. This sense of belonging gives them a warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside. They like it, and will fight to protect that sensation. They feel that they are one of the whole. They have a tribe, of other like-minded people “doing the right thing”.”

Again – facts – no one was banging pots and pans every day. Every week, For a defined period. And yes it did mean a lot to the people on the front line. After years of salary neglect; hospital and clinic closures; and job cuts, those front line workers were seen with new eyes. 

Again – such sweeping generalisations – I love how the author thinks that he speaks for everyone. People do things not just to be part of the herd but out of simple respect for the work or sacrifices that people make.  

“Belonging is a very deep-seated craving for humans. It’s why corporations work, the “family culture” of toiling together for a company, why sports teams have such loyal, adamant and even violent followers, why people attend church or other religious gatherings, and why people sew their national flag on bags when backpacking internationally. We all have clans. This want/need to belong is deep-seated in our sub-conscious, maybe even our DNA. Even when individuals meet and discover that they share the same interests and/or views, a bond begins to form, as they have found a potential friend, an individual who is similar in nature to ourselves. We inherently seek such bonds of belonging out, since without them, feelings of despair and loneliness overtake us. We are, after all, only human.”

Maybe. But what does this have to do with our personal, community, national and global response to the Coronovirus? We all have plenty of opportunity to belong to whatever groups we choose without the worries of responding to a virus that has upended all our lives and created levels of unemployment and hardship not seen for decades. Our human response is to protect those communities and to support the people that have been in the front line of providing protection and saving lives.

It is all very well being an outsider. One of the joys of at least our democratic media is the right to free speech. It is the right to hold different opinions. But when those opinions are unsupported by either evidence or alterative actions then expect to be called out.

The person who sent me the article has already blocked me on Line as he did not like my response. Am sure there is an audience of like-minded people who will nod and say the author is correct. I just hope that a) there are few of them and b) I , at a more vulnerable age and with vulnerable family members, do not have to interact with them.

Finally as we all sit in our protective bubble – and while some of us like to think that we are all being misled by the media on the impact of coronavirus this beautifully written report from India was published two days ago in the New York Times.  “A friendship; a pandemic; and a death beside the highway.”

It is  the story of  Mohammad Saiyub, a 22-year-old Muslim, and Amrit Kumar, a 24-year-old Dalit. They deserved so much better than life gave them.

, , , , ,